Wojo to Howard: “You don’t have to go it alone”

With a little over 14 minutes to go in Sunday’s game against Butler, Markus Howard, fresh off missing a tough stepback 3, drove a congested lane and forced up a tough shot that was blocked out of bounds.

This is a fairly common occurance, and doesn’t usually merit striping down and posting online, but this particular play stuck in my mind a lot.

It didn’t even count as a shot, simply a ball off of Butler, so didn’t go in the record, but at this point in the game, Markus was 2-8 from the field and yet to find his groove. He was being draped by the league’s best perimeter defender in Aaron Thompson and hounded by Kamar Baldwin’s prying arms the rest of the time. It had not been a fun afternoon.

Cain1.JPG

You can tell he’s forcing it because he misses not only 1 teammate on the initial drive, but a separate one after the recovery.

Koby.JPGAs shoot first as Markus is, he is quite adept at hitting the open corners when they’re available. The caveat is that he has to be looking for them. This drive was resulting in a shot pretty much no matter what occurred.

And again, Markus has earned the right to pretty much shoot whatever shot he wants, whenever he wants it. If he was on one of his heaters, I would have been mad at him for passing.

But after that possession ended in a Koby turnover, the following MU possession saw Markus dribble to the left corner off pick and take a stepback, contested, fall away 3 that bricked off the backboard. He was now 2-9 for the game and hadn’t made a shot in the half. It was not his game.

But then something happened, that I just don’t think I ever remember seeing the past 2 years. Wojo took Markus aside while Sacar was shooting free throws and talked to him.

This may be one of those lasting videos we see if this season continues its upward trajectory. The coach is grabbing his all-universe player and telling him directly, “You don’t have go alone, ok?”

Don’t get me wrong, coaches talk to players all game long and we the public miss 99.9% of what is said, so this could be par for the course. But in my recollection, I’ve never seen the message be delivered quite as clearly as Wojo did to Markus there. Or quite as publicly.

His team was playing great. Brendan was hot. Sacar was getting to the rim. Jayce and John were scoring down low, this wasn’t the time to bust out the cape and mask.

“You don’t have to go it alone, ok?”

After 3 possessions of Markus as facilitator (resulting in 2 separate trips to the line, though only 2 points) he grabbed a seat on the bench with 11:18 to go and Marquette up 12 for what has customarily been a very quick 1 or 2 minute breather to coincide with the media timeout.

And yet the 9-minute mark came and went without any subs even waiting at the scorer’s table.  This wasn’t your average “can’t shake the team up its hot I’m going to let it ride” decision, either. Sacar was pretty much the sole creator, but wasn’t turning those good looks into much. The crowd was dead and Butler was getting some life.

As the clock was hitting 8, Aaron Thompson scored to cut the Marquette lead to 8 and you finally saw Markus get up to check in. Again, this was Wojo sending Markus (and his team) a message.

“You don’t have to go it alone, ok?”

With Markus watching and waiting, Koby hit a 3, then another, then fell on the ground and passed it to Bailey who completed the death knell 9-0 run and brought down Fiserv for good.

Howard did come in after Butler’s timeout there, having sat for 5:21 of game action and having seen Marquette’s lead grow by 5 points in his absence. All he did was hit a runner, a 3 and 1 of 2 free throws to finish with a team-high 17 points. All was right with the world.

Howard finished with a usage of 26.2%, his 2nd lowest of the season and the lowest in Big East play since Feb. 23, 2019 against Providence, the high-water mark as a team last season. (Just like in that game, Marquette now travels to Villanova to try and cement its newfound status.)

I don’t expect Markus to have usage that low going forward, and I think it would be detrimental for the team’s overall prospects, but I give tremendous kudos to Wojo for laying the firmer glove and to Markus for coming back after engaged and ready to seal up National Marquette Day for good.

It’s all about recognizing what he has to offer in that moment, and what the team needs from him.

“You don’t have to go it alone, ok?”

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